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“Toy Story 3” is a triumph, puts exhibitors at ShoWest in tears

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“Toy Story 3” is a triumph, puts exhibitors at ShoWest in tears

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A few days ago, Lee Unkrich tweeted this phone message that he received from someone named Geordi. Who – upon learning that Lee was directing “Toy Story 3” – actually left Unkrich voicemail which said :

“Please, please don’t screw (this movie) up … Make it big. Make sure that something very important is going to happen. Otherwise there is no point in (producing another "Toy Story" sequel).

Well, since I just saw “Toy Story 3” at its ShoWest screening (which was held in Le Theatre Des Arts at the Paris Las Vegas), I can now reassure Geordi that Lee didn’t screw it up. He and his team did “Toy Story 3” big. And lots of really important things do happen in this terrific sequel to the first two “Toy Story” films.

Woody holds up a giant number 3 for Pixar's Toy Story 3
Copyright Disney Pixar. All Rights Reserved

“So what happens in this eagerly awaited sequel?,” you ask. … Well, now comes the tricky part.

You see, though Unkrich (while he was standing on stage with “TS3” producer Darla K. Anderson) did ask those of us in attendance to tweet, Facebook, however we wanted to spread the word about what we thought of Pixar’s latest production … Lee also asked all those who saw today’s work-in-progress screening of “Toy Story 3” to not reveal any key plot points. And given what a brilliant job the folks at Pixar did with this motion picture, I feel genuinely obliged to honor Ukrich’s request.

So what can I tell you about “Toy Story 3” without revealing any significant surprises? … Er … Um … Well, for starters, you should bring Kleenex. Lots & lots of Kleenex. Because I can guarantee you that you’re going to spend a good portion of the last 30 minutes of this film in tears.

Buzz Lightyear on a Toy Story 3 poster
Copyright Disney Pixar. All Rights Reserved

I mean, I sat in that hall today surrounded by hardened industry professionals. Exhibitors who care more about how much popcorn & soda they’re selling than the movies they’re currently showing at their multiplexes. And these jaded theater owners – as “Toy Story 3” entered the home stretch – were openly weeping. Tears streaming down hundreds of faces as the ultimate fate of Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the whole Andy’s Room gang was decided.

Speaking of which … I’m going to be very interested to see what sort of rating “Toy Story 3” gets. Because this movie gets really dark and scary at times. In fact, there’s one sequence toward the end of “TS3” where the toys are put in such peril (and then handle this literally horrifying moment with such grace, heart and courage) that I wonder if this moment in the movie may be just too much for little-little kids to handle. But then again – given how the sequence in question pays off, with this great character-driven “But of course!” moment (which got a huge reaction from the crowd today in Le Theatre Des Arts) – I honestly wouldn’t change a frame of this film.

Here’s something else that you’re going to want to do before seeing “Toy Story 3”: And that’s rewatch “Toy Story” & “Toy Story 2.” You see, Unkrich and Anderson have made a point of filling “TS3” with all sorts of witty tie-ins, clever call-backs to the first two films. And in order to really appreciate what Lee & Darla have done here, the first two “Toy Story” movies should still be fresh in your mind. (That way -- for example -- you'll realize that the last image in "Toy Story 3" echoes the very first thing that you see in the original "Toy Story.")

Jessie the Cowgirl on a Toy Story 3 poster
Copyright Disney Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Another thing worth noting here is – while “Toy Story” was basically a buddy movie and “Toy Story 2” was more of a road picture … “Toy Story 3” – in its heart of hearts -- a caper. There’s at least one sequence (where I think it’s Dave Foley doing the voice of that Fisher Price phone) that gives off a strong “Ocean's Eleven” vibe. Which is another reason that it was so great that Pixar & Disney decided to show this work-in-progress version of “TS3” here in Vegas at the ShoWest crowd.

Getting back to Geordi’s phone message to Lee Unkrich … I have to admit that I too had my reservations about “Toy Story 3.” You see, “Toy Story 2” is one of my absolute favorite Pixar films (with the very last sequence in that movie – with Wheezy the Penguin channeling Robert Goulet as those three Barbie dolls act as his back-up singers, while the whole gang stands there, together & whole & happy as the camera whips around Andy’s bedroom – is just sheer bliss for me. I’ve seen “TS2” dozens of times at this point and that scene never fails to make me smile). And the very thought that the folks at Pixar might go back to the “Toy Story” well once too often and then screw things up was just … unbearable to me.

But Unkrich & Anderson didn’t screw up “Toy Story 3.” If anything, they kind of achieved the impossible here. You see, though “Toy Story 3” picks up the “Toy Story” storyline 10 years later, there’s a seamless flow of story and character development from 1 to 2 to 3. Hard as this may be to believe (particularly in today’s Hollywood), there’s no discernible drop-off of quality either. The “Toy Story” trilogy (as it’s sure to be called now) is one consistent & continuous piece of entertainment. I guarantee that you'll laugh, smile and cry through all three of these films.

The Slinky dog from Toy Story 3
Copyright Disney Pixar. All Rights Reserved

So when June 18th rolls around, you can bet that I’ll be there in line at my local multiplex (given that we only got to see “TS3” in 2D today, I’ll be interested to see if viewing this sequel in 3D adds or detracts to the flow of this film). If only so I can then experience the last half hour of this new Pixar movie one more time. Which – while it features plenty of plot twists & surprises – still manages to wrap things up in an emotionally satisfying way. In short, it ends just the way you’d hope “Toy Story 3” would end.

So come back in three months … Where I’ll then be free to tell you where to look if you'd like to find the Pizza Planet truck (among other great inside jokes that are featured in this Lee Unkrich / Darla K. Anderson movie).

Your thoughts?

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  • This is the type of advance word that makes me very nervous about this movie.  While I'm sure it is an excellent film, who are they aiming it at, and why?  After showing my 3 & 5 year olds the trailer and explaining the very basic plot to them, I've already been hit, multiple times, with teary eyed children wondering if Woody and Buzz and Jessie want to escape from their daycare, too.  (Let's not even get into moment when they realized the possibility that the toys in their own bedroom wanted to run away.)

    Don't misunderstand me.  I am not advocating dumbed down movies for kids at all.  I want films that my entire family can go see and enjoy together.  The plot of this film, combined with Jim's questioning of the intensity of certain scenes, makes me wonder who this film is really for.  Obviously, it is not "for" children, but it's starting to sound like more and more of a stretch for an "entire family" experience.  

  • In twelve years of managing cinemas and screening rooms, the only other time I've ever seen the theatre exhibitors weep was at the trade screening of Spielberg's "E.T. - The ExtraTerresterrial".  

    Weeping exhibitors = EVERYONE will go see it!

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